Let’s Stand Together

“If you were on a airplane that was hijacked, and they said Jews go to left and everyone else go to the right, what would you do?”

I was at a non-denominational summer camp when this question came up. It was the summer of 1984; I was thirteen-years old, identified as Jewish, and there had been three hijackings in the news. My friends and I had just talked a Florida camper down from tears. She was sure that her plane would be diverted to Cuba.

These are the conversations you have when adults aren’t around. They are conversations that force you to face who you are and figure out what, if anything you would stand for. I remember my question to the questioner: “Wait. Do you know that the hijackers are against Jews?” The answer. “No. You don’t know if something is going to happen to the Jews or not.”  “Then no,” I answered. “I don’t want to die. I’d say I wasn’t Jewish.”

Because of how I choose to present my Judaism, it’s pretty easy to be overlooked as a just another white person who might raise a tree on December 25th (I did in 20 years of marriage to a non-Jew) and eat chocolate bunnies in the spring. (Who would pass up chocolate—not me.) But that ability to pass, often makes me privy to microaggressions and anti-semitism that sometimes happen within closed groups. To avoid that, I often declare myself as Jewish early in new work relationships. I’m no shrinking violet and it’s my moral imperative to not only speak up for all underrepresented people in negative situations but also to advocate positively for diversity and equality.

The growing anti-semitism in our country goes hand in hand with other messages of hate and othering against: Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and all brown and black people. The recent comments (from those who sit in the whitest White House in recent history) about Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty and our President’s on-going reaction to the racist and anti-Semitic events of Charlottesville  bring me to tears. There is no doubt that KKK and neo-Nazi members, and others who label themselves as white supremacists are emboldened by the friend they have in President Trump. I am equally aghast whenever I see Jewish organizations supporting this president.

What does one do when it looks as if our entire country has stepped into a time machine that takes us back to (reveals that we never left) an amorphous period between 1890 and 1969?

I recently found this New York Times Article, “Revocation of Grants to Help Fight Hate Under New Scrutiny After Charlottesville.” In summary, President Obama earmarked $400,000 to the organization “Life after Hate” to help members of hate groups out of extremism. When President Trump took office, he rescinded those grants. I’ve donated to the organization in the hopes that, as President Obama Tweeted:

In addition to my donation, I will continue to shut up and listen to those who face bigots daily simply because of the color of their skin. I will stand up, speak out for, and ask difficult questions about equality, diversity, and peace in my art, writing, personal, and professional life. I will suggest wonderful books to children and families that provide empathy and education. And if, G-d forbid, I am put in a situation where I have to declare my identity and face possible harm, I hope we will all stand together on the same side of that plane as human beings.

Happy Multicultural Children’s Book Day! #readyourworld Book Reviews

Happy Multicultural Children’s Book Day!

Children’s reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom teamed up in late 2013 to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event. Today, January 27th, 2015, they are hosting yet another Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a way of celebrating diversity in children’s books.

While #weneeddiversebooks focusses on changing the face of children’s literature by encouraging writers and illustrators from a variety of backgrounds to submit their work and urging changes in the publishing industry, #readyourworld seeks to get multicultural books into classrooms and libraries.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

Here are some ways you can celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day:

  • Visit The Multicultural Children’s Book Day website and view the booklists, reading resources and other useful multicultural information.
  • Visit the Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board for more reading ideas.
  • Have children bring in their favorite multicultural book to school on this day and all this week and share it with the class.
  • Watch for the #ReadYourWorld hashtag on social media and share.
  • Visit MCCBD sponsors Wisdom Tales Press, Satya House Publications, DARIA (World Music with DARIA, Rainbow Books and others to discover new books to read.
  • Create a Multicultural Children’s Book Day display around the classroom or library.
  • Visit The Multicultural Children’s Book Day website on January 27th to view and participate in our huge blogger link-up, multicultural book reviews, giveaways and more!

MCCBD team hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Today, I’m happy to share with you three of my favorite multicultural picture books to read and share.

First up, the Ezra Jack Keats Award winning, YESTERDAY I HAD THE BLUES by Jeron Ashford Frame, illustrations by R. Gregory Christie (Tricycle Press, 2003). A boy starts by exploring his “deep down in my shoes blues, the go away, Mr. Sun, quit smilin’ at me blues,” and goes on to explore other feelings as they relate to colors. His Daddy has the grays, his friend Sasha has the pinks, Talia has the Indigos, Gram the yellows and Mama the red. The author uses a jazzy string of strong and active nouns and verbs to describe each feeling and color. “Sasha says she got the pinks. The shiny tights, ballet after school, glitter on her cheeks pinks.” Jeron Ashford Frame’s poetry is toe tapping and R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations, while uniquely his, reminds me of Romare Bearden and William H. Johnson.

Next, OUT OF THE WAY! OUT OF THE WAY (Tulika Publishers, 2010, Groundwood Books, 2012), words by Uma Krishnaswami and pictures by Uma Krishnaswamy. One day, a boy finds a baby tree on a well worn path. He protects it with rocks and the path and people curve to avoid it: the bullock-cart man, the bicycles, people and animal feet. As the tree grows and spreads wider above creating a home for birds and small animals, the traffic and the town below it grows too. Krishnaswami captures the constant movement of people, carts, tires with the phrase “here to there and back again.” Soon the path is a lane and then a paved road. Krishnaswami is a master of refrain with her “Out of the way!” phrase.  The illustrator, Krishnaswamy, gives us a glimpse into the bustle of Indian culture with a lovely combination of line work and bright color.

I love this book as a multicultural substitute for that other tree book. (You know the one with the tree who tells the boy to go ahead and cut it down for his own purposes.) This one respects the interaction and connection between tree and human. It suggests that while humans grow and need, they can give space and respect to each other and to nature.

Set in old Peking, THE ELEPHANT’S PILLOW (Frances Lincoln, 2003) by Diana R. Roome and illustrator Jude Daly, tells the story of a spoiled merchant’s son named Sing Lo. Never satisfied with what he has, Sing Lo asks his rickshaw man, “What is the greatest sight of all?” Thus begins Sing Lo’s quest to see the Emperor’s elephant and to cheer him up. In the process, Sing Lo must rise to various challenges (through three tries) and transforms into the hero we knew he could be. The illustrations find their roots in the triptychs of Asian scrolls with saturated reds, blues, and oranges offset by pale yellows. It is a wonderful read aloud that is sweet and relatable. In the end, the elephant behaves much like a content puppy when it wants to be rubbed behind the ear.

You can bring books like these to children who need them by donating to First Book! 

Through First Book, MCCBD is having a virtual book drive.

A special thank you to the Children’s Book Council (CBC) for their support with Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD)!

Platinum Sponsors: Wisdom Tales Press, Daybreak Press Global Bookshop, Gold SponsorsSatya House,  MulticulturalKids.com,   Author Stephen Hodges and the Magic Poof, Silver Sponsors: Junior Library GuildCapstone Publishing, Lee and Low Books,  The Omnibus Publishing. Bronze Sponsors:Double Dutch Dolls, Bliss Group Books, Snuggle with Picture Books Publishing,  Rainbow Books,   Author FeliciaCapers,   Chronicle Books   Muslim Writers Publishing ,East West Discovery Press.

Our CoHosts: We have NINE amazing Co-Hosts. You can view them here.

#GivingTuesday and #WeNeedDiverseBooks

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign has been a rousing success. Far surpassing their original Indiegogo campaign of $100,000, the goals have been expanded. The money to this organization will support diverse authors in classrooms, internships in publishing, diverse books and programming, diversify classrooms, and develop educational kits for libraries and schools. The organization’s main goal is to promote non-majority narratives and the winners here are hopefully young readers and their families.

As an early #WeNeedDiverseBooks supporter, I sponsored a classroom visit from a diverse author to a Title I school. Why? There are always one or two kids for whom a school visit is magical. Those few kids who love to daydream, and doodle, and write poetry get a tingle in their spine as they meet an author or illustrator and the epiphany hits them… “Regular people like me write and illustrate books. I could do that!” Regular people–like me. School visits from diverse authors are crucial in planting the seeds for future authors who will write the next diverse books.

Some of you may know that I ran a booking agency. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked in that short year if the authors I represented could visit for free. Unfortunately, someone has to foot the bill. Authors and illustrators must be properly compensated for their expertise, their travel, and their lodging as much as they might want to give it away for free. (And trust me, many would love to not have to deal with that money stuff.) I’m hoping that more sponsors will use #GivingTuesday to step forward and sponsor a classroom. Join me in supporting #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Multicultural Children’s Book Day January 27th

This post is reblogged from Pragmatic Mom. You can follow the author, Mia Wenjen on Twitter @pragmaticmom, on Pintrest, or on Facebook.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

January 27, 2014

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

 Children’s reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom have teamed up to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event.  On January 27th, Jump into a Book and Pragmatic Mom will be presenting the first ever Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a way of celebrating diversity in children’s books.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

Meet your hosts and co-creators of Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

Valarie Budayr

Valarie Budayr of Jump Into a Book is a best-selling children’s author of The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes Came to our Garden and The Ultimate Guide To Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. She is passionate about making kid’s books come alive and is proud to be a play and reading advocate. Valarie’s mission is to inspire children,families, and communities, to experience and create our world together while having fun.

MiaMedium

Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom is a Harvard grad with a love  of children’s books (picture books through YA) and sneaking in teachable moments in art, science, math, foreign language and language arts. Mia is passionate about getting kids excited about reading and helping parents ensure that their child is successful at school.

Here are some ways you can help us celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day

  • Have children bring in their favorite multicultural book to school on this day and share it with the class.
  • Have a special Multicultural Children’s Book Day book read aloud time.
  • Create a Multicultural Children’s Book Day display around the classroom or library.
  • Read Around the Continents and Countries. Great resources list at JumpIntoaBook.com and PragmaticMom.com
  • Visit The Multicultural Children’s Book Day page at Jump Into a Book.
  • Visit our Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board for more reading ideas.
  • Do a craft or activity presented on Jump Into a Book or Pragmatic Mom which relates to the many cultures in our world.

VCFA/Goldblatt: Angela Johnson Scholarship for New Students of Color or Ethnic Minority

I mention my MFA alma mater Vermont College of Fine Arts a lot. My time at VCFA was a life-changing experience. By 2009, I had already spent a good eight or so years on writing for children. I had a few dollars in my pocket from selling my poetry to wonderful magazines such as Ladybug, Babybug, and Highlights High Five. I was steeped in New England SCBWI and had attended numerous conferences asking many questions of fine faculty. In fact, that year I was the Director for the annual spring conference. (more on that later) But the letters I got from agents and editors were maddeningly similar. Basically they all said… there’s good writing here but you don’t quite have the craft down yet.

VCFA was all about craft and nothing about business. Coming from SCBWI this was frustrating, but eventually it was freeing. After the first residency at VCFA I realized that I hadn’t had enough knowledge to even know what questions to ask. The community, the award-winning faculty, and the program helped me to climb away from my plateau and make my work better. After VCFA, I read differently, I wrote differently, I taught differently, I was supported differently, and I supported others differently.

One thing that really bothered me at VCFA was that the faces of the students in the WCYA program did not look very diverse. Diversity in children’s literature is an ongoing issue. That SCBWI conference that I’d been planning for two years was titled, Many Voices and sought to include more people of color in the faculty and participant pool. If you’ve been following the CBC Diversity blog, or Anne Sibley O’Brien’s Coloring Between the Lines, or reading Christopher Myers article in Horn Book, you know that the issue of diversity in children’s books is a huge problem. (See Tina Kügler’s great info graphic below.)

Infographic by Tina Kügler originally for Illustration Friday

What is to be done? Many people think that the answer is in enrolling more people of color at great MFA programs like VCFA. To that end, the agent Barry Goldblatt established a scholarship in honor of Angela Johnson, the critically acclaimed African American poet and author of more than 40 books for children and young adults. She has won the Coretta Scott King Award three times, the Michael L. Printz Award, and received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. Her work explores the lives of characters of color of all ages, in historical and contemporary settings and celebrates a myriad of experiences growing up in America.

In addition to honoring Ms. Johnson, this scholarship will help to fill the void of multi-cultural voices in the world of children’s and young adult literature by providing scholarship assistance to minority students attending VCFA.

The recipient of the scholarship is in no way obligated to submit works to, or seek representation by Barry Goldblatt Literary, LLC.

Here are the details of the scholarship directly from the VCFA press release. If you fit the eligibility criteria, please apply. You have nothing to lose and the world and its children have so much to gain by hearing your voice!

Award Amount

One or two scholarships of up to $5,000 will be awarded annually and will be applied to the student’s tuition costs.  The maximum scholarship awarded will not exceed $5,000.

Eligibility  Criteria

Qualified applicants will meet the following criteria:

  1. A minority, defined as a person of color or a person of ethnic minority in the VCFA community
  2. Demonstrates talent, promise, and commitment to a career as a writer in the children and/or young adults field of literature.
  3. Has strong financial need.
  4. Priority will be given to incoming students.

Application Process

Eligible applicants must submit an essay (see below) by April 30.  Essays are to be emailed to:  Melissa Fisher, Director, Writing for Children & Young Adults  at melissa.fisher@vcfa.edu  with the words “Application for Angela Johnson Scholarship” in the subject line. Essays emailed after April 30 will not be considered.

Essay are not to exceed 350 words and should describe the applicant’s:

  • Commitment and or passion for the literary field of children’s and young adult literature;
  • Extenuating or financial challenges.

A Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form must be filed by April 30.

Questions?

Email Melissa Fisher, Director, Writing for Children & Young Adults at melissa.fisher@vcfa.edu.

Muslim Author’s Book Named Among ‘100 Greatest Children’s Books’ of the Last 100 Years by New York Public Library

I was so happy to see this wonderful news that I want to share it with all of you. Rukhsana Khan’s book BIG RED LOLLIPOP  is on the New York Public Library’s Children’s Books 2012: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list. She is the first Muslim author of Pakistani origin to be named on the list. Quoting directly from their press release, NYPL stated that all books on the list have “withstood the test of time at the New York Public Library or are on their way to becoming new classics.”

Ms. Khan receiving the Golden Kite Award. Photo from her website.

Rukhsana Khan is originally Pakistani and learned English as a second language. Her prolific writing and huge success has seen BIG RED LOLLIPOP scoop up a string of coveted awards. The book has been voted America’s ‘best picture book’ twice (The Charlotte Zolotow and the Golden Kite) – now, the New York Public Library has named it as one of the ‘100 greatest children’s books’ in the last 100 years. 

 

In BIG RED LOLLIPOP, Rubina has been invited to her first birthday party, and her mother, Ami, insists that she bring her little sister along. Rubina is mortified, but she can’t convince Ami that you just don’t bring your younger sister to your friend’s party. So both girls go, and not only does Sana demand to win every game, but after the party she steals Rubina’s prized party favor, a red lollipop. What’s a fed-up big sister to do?
Rukhsana Khan’s clever story and Sophie Blackall’s irresistible illustrations make for a powerful combination in this fresh and surprising picture book.

“…It’s an ending worthy of a novella, and once again signals that Khan is one of the most original voices working in picture books today.”
-Publisher’s Weekly Starred review of BIG RED LOLLIPOP

Learning English as a second language has been no bar to Rukhsana Khan’s success. Khan arrived in North America as a child from Pakistan and now, her writing career sees her visit over eighty schools a year across North America, make countless presentations and shatter cultural barriers through a string of awards.

As the author explains, her book is already beloved by many families around the world.

“It’s wonderful to see it listed alongside other classics such as ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web’.” says Khan. “At a time when the world is becoming increasingly polarized, stories like ‘Big Red Lollipop’ tap into universal themes and are crucial to forging a smooth path toward the growing diversity of the North American landscape. As a practicing Muslim, the road hasn’t been easy. I have done my best to battle xenophobia and terrorist stereotypes with wit and humor. I have also worked diligently to create inroads to cross cultural dialogue and understanding.”

While this particular children’s book has helped Khan further build her name, she frequently tours the world to discuss her other works ranging from gritty teen novels on suicide, Afghanistan and issues of parental abandonment. 

“It’s not just about writing – but about sharing my work with others and using the stories to open up a series of vital dialogues. I’ve also recently launched a free literary resource for educators as part of my popular YouTube channel,” she adds.

With such a unique bibliography and passion for her work, interested readers are invited to visit Khan’s official website for more information: http://www.rukhsanakhan.com

I was lucky to see Rukhsana Khan accept her SCBWI 2011 Golden Kite Award at the New York SCBWI Conference for her book BIG RED LOLLIPOP. I’ve never seen an author as ebullient as Ms. Khan.  She told us the true story that inspired the book. Her love and joy were contagious. Congratulations to Ms. Khan and the others on the New York Public Library’s Children’s Books 2012: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list.

 

Attention “Minority” Authors and Illustrators: Approaching Deadlines for Awards/Grants

Two big deadlines are coming up for kidlit authors and illustrators of color.

One, the New Visions Writer’s Award from Lee & Low Publishing.

The NEW VISIONS AWARD will be given for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500.

Submissions are due October 31st. Click for details. 

The second, is the new SCBWI On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award.

The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books. The grant will be given to two writers or illustrators who are from an ethnic and/or cultural background that is traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America.

Two writers or writer/illustrators will each receive an all-expenses paid trip to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York to meet with editors and agents, a press release to publishers, a year of free membership to SCBWI, and an SCBWI mentor for a year.

Submissions are due November 15th.  Click for details.

Please share freely and encourage those who are eligible to submit!

Member Monday: Old news or news to you?

I’m just back from a two-week research/family trip to Italy where I visited Florence and small red-roofed, hill topped towns in Tuscany. I’ll be posting more about that later this week, but first I’m passing on some of the news, blogs and articles that I missed while I was away. Perhaps these are just old news, but perhaps you missed some of these too. Hope they are helpful.

Most important on my list is this announcement from SCBWI. The On-the-verge Emerging Voices Award. I’ve been sitting on this since before my trip, itching to tell you all about this news and then they go and announce it at the LA SCBWI National Conference. Follow the link above for the full press release but here is a quick snippet.

The annual award, established by SCBWI and funded by Martin and Sue Schmitt, will be given to two writers or illustrators who are from ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America and who have a ready-to-submit completed work for children. The purpose of the grant is to inspire and further the emergence of diverse writers and illustrators of children’s books.

Here is the link for the grant eligibility, process, and deadline. 

This issue is close to my heart. I hope that writing programs across the country, most notably VCFA, my alma mater,  and Hamlin College– and publishing programs, NYU and others will stand up and take notice. Action can be taken to increase diversity in publishing. Here are some thoughts from the CBC Diversty blog from those in the industry.

Here is a wonderful post from Laurie Halse Anderson that discusses the lack of diversity on the recently released NPR YA list.  Happy & Sad about the NPR Top 100 YA List In her post she also posts the following links which are important enough for me to list them again here:

On NPR’s Very White Best Young Adult Books List, by Shaker Laurie.
Reading in Color’s Booklists

And… one of my favorite sites The Brown Bookshelf.

(The link for the NPR Top 100 YA List is here if you haven’t seen it.)

In other old news:

Women On The Rise Among The World’s Top-Earning Authors This is an interesting article on celebrity authors but I’m not exactly sure what it says for the rest of us. The article celebrates that there are now six women on the list at all. Perhaps I’m a glass half empty person, (No, I’m not.) but what I see here is a continuation of women earning 78% of what men earn. Even if you go from the Stephen King’s $39 million (instead of James Patterson’s $94 million) 78% of that is about $30 mill. That- and below- is where we find the women.Of course, once you get into the millions of dollars, this may matter less but it is still true. For more on gender and writing see my post here or take a look at VIDA- Women in the Literary Art’s annual count for 2012. 

Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing Okay. I need a while to both read and process something like this but if you are interested in the economics of the publishing industry and are concerned/interested in the changes in traditional vs. digital, this is the article for you.

That’s it for today, friends. Read, write, draw and do at least one of those outside. Two weeks and counting until kids go back to school in the home of Creative Chaos.

Call for Submissions from Tu Books (an imprint of Lee & Low)

Just the other day I got to be with New England Web guru and ARA Greg Fishbone, author of Galaxy Games published by Tu Books. Check it out then submit your own speculative fiction. Read guidlines carefully please.

Call for Submissions

Tu Books publishes speculative fiction for children and young adults featuring diverse characters and settings. Our focus is on well-told, exciting, adventurous fantasy, science fiction, and mystery novels featuring people of color set in worlds inspired by non-Western folklore or culture. We welcome Western settings if the main character is a person of color.

We are looking specifically for stories for both middle grade (ages 8-12) and young adult (ages 12-18) readers. (We are not looking for picture books, chapter books, or short stories. Please do not send submissions in these formats.)

For more information on how to submit, please see our submission guidelines at http://www.leeandlow.com/p/tu_submissions.mhtml. We are not accepting unagented email submissions at this time.

What we’re particularly interested in seeing lately: Asian steampunk, any African culture, contemporary African-American stories, Latino/a stories, First Nations/Native American/Aboriginal fantasy or science fiction written by tribal members, original postapocalyptic worlds, historical fantasy or mystery set in a non-Western setting.

We look forward to reading your book!

LEE & LOW BOOKS, Inc.
95 Madison Avenue, Suite 1205
New York, NY 10016